"Though the great salmon runs were only in Northern California rivers, steelhead trout were trapped, speared or hooked as they returned to from the sea to spawn . . ."
- A passage From David Carle's book,"Water and the California Dream".
If you think this is a description of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers that are part of the State Water Control Board plan to sacrifice much of the Northern San Joaquin County and non-river environment in order to generate a maximum of 600 new fish between the three rivers on a reoccurring annual basis, guess again. Carle is describing the Santa Ana, San Gabriel, and Los Angeles rivers before they were destroyed by the insatiable desire of LA and corporate agriculture to maximize their wealth at the cost of everything else in California.
Rest assured LA Water and Power Company - the nice people that obtained 98 percent of the privately owned land in the Owens Valley or some 300,000 acres through agents for the purpose of one thing only which was to control groundwater rights in addition to diverting the lifeblood of Owens Lake and Mono Lakes into L.A. faucets - will ultimately benefit from the state's proposed water grab in the Northern San Joaquin Valley basin.
To believe otherwise is to ignore 100-plus years of L.A.'s drive to grow beyond its means by "robbing" other river basins throughout California plus the Colorado River watershed of life giving water.
Why does L.A. have to keep growing and big corporate farms expanding? The reason is simple: Greed.
The more growth, the more money that lines the pockets of those at the top of the economic food chain.
It is clear to any honest person that the billions of dollars that are proposed to be dumped into Delta bypass tunnels - whether they are one or two in number - will impact water quality in the Delta. Even if you buy into the whopper that says L.A. is willing to cover a large chunk of the $17 billion tunnel construction bill without taking another drop of Northern California water, there is the issue of taking fresh water out of the Delta.
By diverting water heading to L.A. and corporate farms of thousands of acres apiece on the west side of the Southern San Joaquin Valley either under, around or even over the Delta in elevated aqueducts you create a situation where salt water will fill the void creating the potential for an environmental Armageddon.
The only way to avoid at is to take water from the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers.
Then there is the question of who will grab the 40 percent unimpaired flows the state wants between February and June that's the equivalent of 360,000 acre-feet of water. Will it all flow into San Francisco Bay or will large amounts of it "inadvertently" flow into the Tracy pumps and into the California Aqueduct to fuel new housing projects in the LA Basin as well as allow Beverly Hills homeowners to keep their estates lush?
If you think this is being cynical take a trip down Highway 99 this month to Bakersfield where you will cross over the Kings, Fresno and Lower San Joaquin rivers. They are bone dry. In fact, the river beds look eerily like much of the Owens Lake that L.A. killed off so they could keep growing. Granted the issue farther south in the valley has to do with heavy farm use but it underscores a point that is lacking in the state's plan. The best way to manage and restore water basins is locally with a nod toward a unified and share the pain approach to global issues such as the Delta. And that includes those that export water out of distant basins to share the pain as well given they do not discharge the water they procure once they are through with it back into the "foreign" basins they took it from.
You will notice the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Rivers flow year round and actually have seen upticks in fish counts during the drought. You can't say that as you head farther south in the valley or about the Owens Valley or the various rivers in Southern California that LA has laid waste to.
If restoring steelhead numbers is a pressing state priority beyond the success on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne where wise hatchery management practices are pushing salmon numbers back up then let's make sure everywhere that Mother Nature meant for steelhead to live is included.
So how about a 40 percent unimpaired flow between February and June for the Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and San Gabriel rivers using water from the LA Basin and not that imported from hundreds of miles away?
It won't happen as Gov. Jerry Brown 1.0 demonstrated in 1982 with his Peripheral Canal stance and Gov. Jerry Brown 2.0 with his current push for the Twin Tunnels that the most important thing in California when it comes to water policy is squeezing out every last drop of water for Los Angeles and corporate farmers. Then the fish and environment count. As for everyone else - family farms, Northern California towns, and riverside dwellers: How dare you have any expectation that local water should ever be used locally when the Greater L.A. Basin needs it to go from its current 10.5 million residents to 15 million residents.
Remember, Los Angeles is the promised land. The rest of California exists to feed L.A.'s wealth and prosperity.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.